Army chief claims ‘false witness’ behind charges
Controversial Army chief claims accusations against him come from ‘false witnesses’
Human rights leaders were outraged yesterday after Army Chief César Milani claimed that those accusing him of crimes against humanity were “false witnesses” and that he was “absolutely innocent” of the charges that originated in the last military dictatorship last Monday.
“For me this is a very heavy burden to carry...there are several things that are really screwed about this investigation,” said the Army chief in reference to the continuing judicial investigations being carried out against him. “For absolutely 37 to 38 years no one said a thing about me, I wasn’t even a defendant...now all of a sudden false witnesses have appeared,” claimed Milani, who ignored evidence that has existed since the 1980s accusing him of participating in crimes against humanity.
“Milani’s statements contradict the testimonial documented evidence from the 1980s and La Rioja’s Nunca Más (human rights violation records) as well as documented proof that demonstrates he signed off on conscript Alberto Agapito Ledo’s desertion papers to hide his forced disappearance,” said Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) director Gastón Chillier when consulted by the Herald. The human rights organization was one of the few government-friendly organizations to break with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration’s support for the Army chief, which was demonstrated again last Monday with Milani’s decision to use a radio run by Mothers of Plaza de Mayo to defend himself.
The victims and their family members immediately responded to the Army chief’s defence. “Milani is lying and abusing his authority ... his statements are an attempt to prevent judicial authorities from indicting him,” said Graciela Ledo, the sister of the disappeared conscript. Contrary to the Army chief’s comments, she confirmed that Milani was denounced in 1979 by Olivera to Federal Judge Roberto Catalán, who cited him for harrassment in interrogation. “Milani was in Corrientes, but Catalán cited him and he came to testify,” said Ledo.
“None of the witnesses lie... He signed the desertion papers of my brother, he couldn’t have been ignorant. Furthermore, the son of General Bussi himself said that Milani was one of his father’s best friends and there are witnesses who saw them together,” Ledo concluded.
Alfredo Olivera, on the other hand, believed that Milani had no other choice but to lie. “There is no way he can avoid being called to testified. Verónica Matta was also arrested by Milani, and in her testimony to the Tucumán justice she said she saw him. Milani took us three,” claimed Olivera. The victim said that the Army chief was “completely aware that he was participating in repression... He has to go.”
The military leader made these comments during a rally announcing joint military-civilian public works projects with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo head Hebe de Bonafini (who has vocally supported Milani despite other Mothers’ accusations against him), Defence Minister Agustín Rossi and La Cámpora youth organization leader Andrés Larroque last Monday.
“If you had asked me back then if this would happen, I never would have believed it, and I never will understand it,” answered the founder of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo María Isabel “Chicha” Chorobik de Mariani to the Herald yesterday, when asked why certain government-allied human rights organizations continued to support Milani.
“I don’t believe any military officer working in those areas at that time was completely innocent, they couldn’t have been unaware of what was occurring, especially not Milani,” said Mariani.
Former Herald editor Robert Cox, who is celebrated for his defense of HR during the dictatorship, was astounded over how the current government and some of its human rights allies continued to support the army general despite the evidence against him.
“The telling thing is that he (Milani) claims not to know what happened at the time. Well, if that’s true, why doesn’t he hold an open press conference and explain exactly what he saw and didn’t... to let people judge for themselves,” Cox told the Herald.
“This is something very worrying about the government, I find it very alarming to see Bonafini and Milani together. It’s untenable this situation, it looks like the military are trying to become a part of the government again,” Cox concluded.
Milani is accused of being involved in the forced disappearance of Ledo on June 17, 1976 in Monteros, Tucumán province, while he was taking part in the so-called “Independence Operation.”
Ledo’s family accuses Milani (an engineering corps officer at that time) of being implicated in the conscript’s disappearance, since his superior Captain Esteban Sanguinetti ordered Ledo to do a night watch, where he then subsequently disappeared. In 1976, Milani signed a minute declaring Ledo a deserter.
Last August Sanguinetti was indicted for Ledo’s forced disappearance.
“Desertion reports were a way of covering up the disappearance of soldiers caused by state terrorism,” it is stated in Detained-disappeared conscripts one of the first documents to analyze this issue, written in 1982 by CELS founders Augusto Conte MacDonell and Emilio Fermín Mignone. In May, the Tucumán Criminal Appeals Court ordered the investigation of Milani for rights abuses committed during the state terrorism era.
Milani also has another crimes against humanity accusation against him for the illegal arrest of political prisoner Ramón Alfredo Olivera in La Rioja during the last military dictatorship but on July 3, it was declared void by Federal Judge La Rioja Daniel Herrera Piedrabuena, leading the investigation back to square one.